Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love (Convergent Books, 2014) is a Memoir written by Anna Whiston-Donaldson who describes the life and loss of her son Jack who died in a freak flash flood. Click here to order your copy.
When I sat down to read Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, I grabbed a box of tissue and attempted to prepare myself. I braced for the impact of truth which I expected would knock me over the head and drag me back to the dark cave I still spend more time in than I’d care to admit.
Losing my first baby boy still haunts me with the whispers of the life that could have been. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would survive reading Anna’s story of loss. How can she go on? I felt like I should know, but I recognize that my loss was not the same. Yes, I lost a child. But he was a baby. He lived for only 9 hours and 33 minutes. The pain and heartache are immense and I can only imagine the magnitude of that loss had he been 12-years-old.
As I started into Anna’s story, I realized that this book was so much more than I expected. The first few chapters drew me into the world of a seemingly ordinary family just living their lives. I laughed as Anna described how Jack felt left out when two neighborhood children bonded while he was on vacation, and he now felt out of place when he returned. I remembered a similar situation in my youth and I deal with those types of things all the time with my three children.
Reading on I became more invested in knowing them. Experiencing what was going on in their lives as the story moved forward. I could feel myself more relaxed, but still tense at the same time. Afterall, no matter how lost I got in the early pages I knew what was coming…
As I moved through the chapters, I literally felt like I was there. Anna transported me into her world and I grew to love her family – while experiencing their strength, grace, and faith. Anna takes an unimaginable situation and somehow makes me understand something fundamental about the human existence. We are strong. We are resilient. We are more connected to God than we know. And we can survive. In fact, we can thrive in the face of great pain.
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One of my favorite parts from Rare Bird is:
I mean, why are we so ready to give God the the credit for every good thing in our lives, from finding our mate, to doing well on a test or landing a job we like, yet we let Him off the hook for all the bad stuff? That seems ridiculous. Isn’t He powerful enough to command our destiny? Because that’s the God I want to worship, not some good-luck charm we call upon to help us find a parking space when we’re running late. I want a powerful God who is willing to make the hard, unpopular choices because He sees the big picture and knows what’s best. Sure, he wants our worship, but He doesn’t need our approval.
I love this part, and read it over several times. I’ll admit, I’m still not sure that I can ever understand the purpose of a child losing their life. It’s something like the loss of Anna’s son Jack that makes us all question the concept of “destiny” and “divine purpose.” When a life is snatched away too soon it leaves us angry and despondent with an urge to resist acceptance. To resist believing in a higher power. However, I do believe that God has a plan for us all. And I’m willing to believe in Him, to have faith that He knows what’s best, and to trust His love for me and my family. That’s what I know from reading Anna’s story. That’s what I will hold on to.
Yes, this is a story of loss – but it’s so much more. It’s a story of trying to make sense of something that you never expected would happen. It’s about rediscovering yourself and your life when you’re shaken to the core by something you never imagined you’d experience. It’s not a book about sadness, it’s a book about hope. About faith. About resilience.
Anna’s writing is so raw and real – relatable and engrossing. Although there were times I could barely see the words on the page through the tears welled up in my eyes, I could not put the book down. A life without Jack is not something that anyone who knew and loved him planned on. But somehow Anna lets me know that it’s possible to go on. And while it never gets better, the burden does get easier to bare.
View the book trailer here:
Read the excerpt on Brain, Child here.
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Learn more about Anna:
Anna Whiston Donaldson is the author of Rare Bird and a blogger at An Inch of Gray. She taught high-school English for six years before becoming a full-time mom and writer. She lives with her husband, Tim, and daughter, Margaret, in suburban Washington, DC.
Disclosure Statement: I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of Rare Bird for the purposes of this review. However, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Please view my disclosure policy for more information.